ODOT cracking down on Salem homeless camp blocking pedestrian br - KPTV - FOX 12

ODOT cracking down on Salem homeless camp blocking pedestrian bridge

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SALEM, OR (KPTV) -

One of Salem’s biggest homeless camps is being forced to move.

The Oregon Department of Transportation crews, Salem Police and social workers made the rounds at the camp Tuesday morning, telling campers they have 10 days to pack up.

Any remaining campers will be forced from the property under and along the Center Street pedestrian bridge.

The area is managed by ODOT, and spokesman Lou Torres told FOX 12 the camp has rapidly grown in the last few weeks.

Torres called the bridge a “health and safety hazard.”

“We’ve got about 50 – 50 people,” said one homeless man, who wished to remain anonymous. “Right now everyone is kind of sad and quiet. Nobody knows what’s going to happen.”

The tents snake through the ramp leading up to the bridge, making it difficult for bikers and other pedestrians to get through.

Salem resident JP Jones likes to walk along the nearby waterfront path several times a week, but he no longer uses the bridge.

“You have to walk through this gauntlet that would be rather intimidating, and there’s garbage and horrible smells,” Jones said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s certainly not a family environment on that bridge. I have a great heart for the people there and their needs, but they need to be somewhere else.”

It’s the sort of reaction the city of Salem has heard a lot of lately.

City leaders and community members of the Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force met Tuesday evening for a brainstorming session devoted to the topic. Dozens turned out for the meeting, leaving standing room only in a room of the Salem Library.

Leaders and representatives of various businesses and organizations got an earful about livability, sanitation and safety – as well as heartbreaking stories about the struggles homeless face daily. The group said it’s still working to identify the biggest problems and possible solutions.

Back near his tent along the Center Street Bridge, 19-year-old Jonathan Oakes wanted to share his own message for the city and community.

“If you guys are so embarrassed and disgusted by us, then help us get off the street,” Oakes said.

He said told FOX 12 he’s lived in the Center Street camp for about three months, but has been on the streets since the age of 14.

“Every day it’s a constant struggle for us,” Oakes said. “Not only do certain programs not open during the day, but they also don’t open for certain types of people.”

ODOT officials said they are working with social services authorities to find other places for the campers to go.

It’s unclear if anyone has been placed in housing.

Torres said ODOT crews will clean up the remaining camp debris and garbage within two weeks.

The Downtown Homeless Solutions Task Force will meet again March 20.

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